Risk is always constructed: one sees something, expects something, is afraid of something, and all this emerges as real in stories about self and environment. Things become more problematic when one story about one type of risk starts to dominate policy and planning. This means that alternative ideas of risk and opportunity, and alternative understandings of types of risks, are marginalized. Things get worse when formal policies and plans addressing one type of risk simply ignore the limits of formality, of the formal institutional order, in organizing anything. One can hit rock bottom when governmental actors, defining risk and creating policies and plans, are embroiled in conflicts with locals whose lands and livelihoods are affected by those policies and plans, and when those conflicts are not recognized.
This, alas, is what happens often when climate risk policy meets southern urbanism. In Bhubaneswar, capital of the Indian state of Odisha, climate policy was handily used by pro- development actors, threatening to displace droves of dwellers in informal settlements, aggravating latent conflicts. Hence, (climate) shocks are likely to produce more unanticipated effects, conflicts function as the unobserved middle term, and the formal policies and plans to mitigate climate risk contribute to the creation of new and largely unobserved risk.
This paper explores the institutionalization process regarding ideas about a more prominent role for citizens’ initiatives in planning. Citizens’ initiatives are often considered important for the transition towards sustainable urban development. Although this claim is not undisputed, many planning reforms in Western societies have promoted the inclusion of citizens in planning policies and projects. In the new Dutch Environment and Planning Act (EPA), which is expected to come into force in 2023, similar intentions are stated. The EPA claims to enhance participation of citizens, amongst other stakeholders, such as societal organizations, governmental bodies and businesses, at an early stage in decision-making processes, while in addition the planning system should become better suited to stimulate and facilitate societal initiatives. This study reveals that these ambitions have not resulted in clear rules or norms that strengthen the role for citizens’ initiatives in urban planning. The analysis of the development of the EPA shows that the institutionalization process can be characterized by 1) an emerging discrepancy between the rhetorical key message that all citizens’ initiatives will benefit from the EPA and the limited legal assurance, 2) the assumption that the myriad of forms citizens’ initiatives come in can be moulded into general participatory schemes and 3) a lack of reflections on how lenient planning rules are likely to advance market parties and governments rather than citizens’ initiatives. Because the institutionalization process continues after effectuation, in particular local governments are urged to develop additional policies to ensure a stronger position for citizens’ initiatives in planning.
Yes, governance is complex and yes, many forms of knowledge and methods of knowledge creation are involved. Many think that it’s a matter of completing a puzzle. While neither governance nor the construction of knowledge work like that. Within the same governance system, very different forms of thinking and organizing can coexist, and the result is not a comprehensive map of the world, nor a set of compatible tools to reshape that world. Models and simulations are alluring but contribute to this forgetting that it’s not a puzzle.
This Special Issue explores evolutionary perspectives on environmental policy and governance. It focuses on human attempts to plan, organize and steer their physical environment. Steering is a matter of coordination, of managing the effects of policy in the world and in governance itself. Environmental governance can be a matter of limiting damage to and enhancing the quality of physical environments, it can be natural resource governance and it can be focused on the development of rural economies—often tied to their physical environment. In other words, through environmental governance, people try to understand and attempt to organize their environment. The authors in this Special Issue demonstrate that understanding and organizing are constantly co-evolving. How something is conceptualized within governance and the position that perspective takes in governance, shapes and at the same time is shaped by traditions of organizing, rooted in the presence of particular actors, institutions and forms of knowledge. The co-evolution of these different elements never ceases, and therefore the interplay between power and knowledge takes places before, during and after the formulation of policies, plans and laws for the environment. Policies are reused, reinterpreted, reinforced and undermined in a context of changing actors, institutions and forms of knowledge implied in the taking of collectively binding decisions.
Raoul Beunen, Kristof Van Assche and Monica Gruezmacher
The attention to sustainability transformations and related processes of learning, innovation, and adaptation has inspired a growing interest in theories that help to grasp the processes of change in governance. This perspective paper and the Special Issue of which it is part explore how evolutionary perspectives on environmental governance can enrich our understanding of the possibilities and limits of environmental policy and planning. The aim of this paper is to highlight some key notions for an evolutionary understanding of governance theory and to show how such an evolutionary perspective can help to develop a more integrated perspective on environmental governance in which the temporal dimension and the effects of steering attempts play a pivotal role. It is argued that the effects of environmental governance on the material environment, community, and governance itself must be considered in their interrelation. Such insight in couplings and co-evolutions can be of great value in the everyday practice of environmental policy and governance and even more so when attempting to transform the governance system towards more ambitious and coordinated goals. View Full-Text
Roel During, Kristof Van Assche and Rosalie Van Dam
Social resilience and ecological resilience are related and distinguished, and the potential of social resilience to enhance resilience of encompassing social-ecological systems is discussed. The value of resilience thinking is recognized, yet social resilience needs to be better understood in its distinctive qualities, while resisting identification of social resilience with one particular form of governance or organization. Emerging self-organizing citizen’s initiatives in The Netherlands, initiatives involving re-relating to nature in the living environment, are analyzed, using a systems theoretical framework which resists reduction of nature to culture or vice versa. It is argued that space for self-organization needs to be cultivated, that local self-organization and mobilization around themes of nature in daily life and space have the potential to re-link social and ecological systems in a more resilient manner, yet that maintaining the diversity of forms of knowing and organizing in the overall governance system is essential to the maintenance of social resilience and of diverse capacities to know human-environment relations and to reorganize them in an adaptive manner. Conclusions are drawn in the light of the new Biodiversity Strategy. View Full-Text
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic offers an opportunity for dealing with persistent problems, through a transformative recovery process. It is a crisis that offers opportunities for dealing with three interrelated crises: the ecological crisis (climate change, loss of biodiversity, resource depletion, pollution and ecosystem destruction), the confidence crisis (people losing trust in government, politics, companies, regular news channels, science, each other and the future), and the inequality crisis (the widening of the gap between rich and poor). Our argument is that sustainability transitions will not succeed without a different economy and another social contract with rights and duties of care for the environment and the well-being of others, including future generations. A different social contract is not only desirable from the point of view of sustainability and fairness, and justice and equality, but it is also necessary to restore citizens’ trust in politics, government, companies and each other. In the paper we discuss mechanisms towards a Natural Social Contract: systemic leverage points for system transformations and possibilities for co-evolutionary governance by actor coalitions interested in transformative change. The combination of those three elements helps to synchronize different agendas and reduce the chance that they will work against each other. View Full-Text
Effective governance and inter-organisational cooperation is key to progressing Australia’s journey toward the circular economy. At the local governance level, inter-municipal cooperative partnerships in waste management (‘IMC-WM’ partnerships) are a widespread phenomenon throughout Australia, and the world. This paper aims to analyse waste management in Australia through a governance perspective and inaugurate the scholarship on understanding the complex interactions between actors and institutions designed for regional cooperation. To this end, we explore the partnerships’ institutional characteristics, joint activity outputs and the internal relations observed between participants. Data were collected through a nationwide census survey of Australia’s IMC–WM partnerships and a short online questionnaire to the municipal policy actors (councillors, executives and council officers) who participate in them. The investigation observes that a diversity of innovative institutional responses has emerged in Australia. However, within these partnerships, a culture of competitiveness antithetical to sustainability is also detected. Despite competitive behaviours, the partnerships perform very well in cultivating goodwill, trust, reciprocity and other social capital values among their participants—as well as a strong appreciation of the complexity of municipal solid waste (MSW) policy and the virtues of regional cooperation. This dissonance in attitudes and engagement dynamics, it is suggested, can be explained by considering the cultural-cognitive influence of broader neoliberalist paradigms. As the first scholarly investigation into Australia’s experience with regional cooperation in waste management, this research reveals the macro-level structures and ascendent micro-institutional dynamics shaping the phenomenon. View Full-Text
Martijn Gerritsen, Henk-Jan Kooij, Martijn Groenleer and Erwin van der Krabben
Experimentalist forms of governance have burgeoned across policy areas and institutional contexts in recent years. Recognizing that experimentalist forms of governance can evolve along a plethora of distinct pathways, this paper inquires how the evolutionary nature of experimentalism can be explored in greater depth. Linking the framework of experimentalist governance to that of Evolutionary Governance Theory (EGT), the paper identifies three driving mechanisms of contingency in experimentalism: governance being (1) self-referential, (2) rooted in observation, and (3) steered by dependencies. The paper then refers to recent efforts in the realm of energy transition governance in the Netherlands to illustrate how these contingency mechanisms can help to interrogate the variegated evolutionary pathways that experimentalist governance may have in practice. Building on this Dutch empirical context, the paper puts forward evolutionary path- and context-mapping as a fruitful tool for identifying and disentangling the myriad of pathways along which experimentalism may manifest itself. View Full-Text
Kristof Van Assche, Monica Gruezmacher and Raoul Beunen
In this paper, we present a framework for the analysis of shock and conflict in social-ecological systems and investigate the implications of this perspective for the understanding of environmental governance, particularly its evolutionary patterns and drivers. We dwell on the distinction between shock and conflict. In mapping the relation between shock and conflict, we invoke a different potentiality for altering rigidity and flexibility in governance; different possibilities for recall, revival and trauma; and different pathways for restructuring the relation between governance, community and environment. Shock and conflict can be both productive and eroding, and for each, one can observe that productivity can be positive or negative. These different effects in governance can be analyzed in terms of object and subject creation, path creation and in terms of the dependencies recognized by evolutionary governance theory: path, inter-, goal and material dependencies. Thus, shock and conflict are mapped in their potential consequences to not only shift a path of governance, but also to transform the pattern of self-transformation in such path. Finally, we reflect on what this means for the interpretation of adaptive governance of social-ecological systems. View Full-Text
Commons (or common-pool resources) are inherently dynamic. Factors that appear to contribute to the evolution of a stable commons regime at one time and place may undergo change that results in the collapse of the commons at another. The factors involved can be very diverse. Economic, social, environmental and political conditions and various drivers may lead to commonisation, a process through which a resource is converted into a joint-use regime under commons institutions and collective action. Conversely, they may lead to decommonisation, a process through which a commons loses these essential characteristics. Evolution through commonisation may be manifested as adaptation or fine-tuning over time. They may instead result in the replacement of one kind of property rights regime by another, as in the enclosure movement in English history that resulted in the conversion of sheep grazing commons into privatized agricultural land. These processes of change can be viewed from an evolutionary perspective using the concepts of commonisation and decommonisation, and theorized as a two-way process over time, with implications for the sustainability of joint resources from local to global. View Full-Text
This special issue on learning and co-evolution in governance develops the argument that learning, dark learning and non-learning are necessarily entwined in governance, moreover, entwined in a pattern unique to each governance configuration and path. What can be learned collectively for the common good, what kind of knowledge and learning can be strategically used and shamelessly abused, and which forms of knowledge remain invisible, intentionally and unintentionally, emerges in a history of co-evolution of actors and institutions, power and knowledge, in governance. Learning becomes possible in a particular form of management of observation, of transparency and opacity, where contingency is precariously mastered by governance systems expected to provide certainty for communities.
Van Assche, K., Beunen, R., Verweij, S., Evans, J., Gruezmacher, M. (2022). Policy learning and adaptation in governance: A co-evolutionary perspective. This paper introduces the concepts and ideas that frame this special issue on co-evolution in governance, and their implications for policy learning and adaptation. It offers a brief overview of co-evolutionary approaches to governance and their elementary connections with systems theories, post-structuralism, institutionalism, and actor-network theory, and explores how they are connected to co-evolution in governance. Co-evolutionary approaches differ from other influential understandings of knowledge and learning in policy and governance. It furthermore presents a typology of learning in governance and systematically discusses how each type is affected by patterns of coevolution in governance.
Jentoft, S., Chuenpagdee, R. (2022). Interactive learning and governance transformation for securing blue justice for small-scale fisheries. In the “Future We Want,” states and non-state actors are invited to contribute to achieving sustainable development goals through various means and mechanisms. This includes securing justice for the most marginalized and disadvantaged sectors like small-scale fisheries, whose rights and access to resources are threatened by Blue Economy/Growth initiatives. While strong and just institutions are imperative to securing sustainable small-scale fisheries, they are not sufficient conditions for obtaining justice. As illustrated in this paper, justice must be secured in the daily interactions between small-scale fisheries actors and other stakeholders, including governments, by means of interactive learning and involving governance transformation.
Alta, A., Mukhtarov, F. (2022). Relationality as a lens for policy analysis: Preserving harmony in a triangular cooperation project to strengthen gender mainstreaming in Fiji. Policy has been mostly approached as a rational project of setting goals and establishing rules and roles to achieve them. Alternative approaches to policy have been referred to as post-positivist, critical-reflexive and relational. They all emphasize emergent, co-evolutionary and relational aspects of policy work that cannot be reduced to rational choice and reasoning-based models alone. A shared element of such frameworks is the focus on relationships, which are seen not just in a narrow sense of the “logic of appropriateness,” but as a force that shapes actors’ identities, interests and power. Following relational analytical approaches, we analyze a triangular development cooperation project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Government of Indonesia in order to strengthen gender mainstreaming (SGM) of Fijian government. Through attention to relationality as it shapes actors’ identities and narratives, we demonstrate how a different form of learning employed by each actor facilitated harmony in the project. A key mediating factor in the smooth project co-evolution that we observed, was the ambiguous project design and vaguely articulated goals, supported by fragmented project setup and reporting. Such ambiguity allowed formulation of multiple versions of the project’s outcomes for multiple audiences. However, it also resulted in little impact on the ground in Fiji. Our findings support persistent criticism of development aid projects in small island states for rarely addressing problems of target populations.
Landry, J. (2022). Do business-backed think tanks represent class interests? The co-evolution of policy learning and economic elites in the Canadian knowledge regime. Business-backed think tanks are often presented as representing the interests of economic elites. This article provides a more nuanced argument by using field theory to present the co-evolutionary dynamics between economic elites and other social forces. Three Canadian think tanks are examined to illustrate how different social forces can converge around business-backed think tanks, and how governance contexts and institutions shape these relationships. The paper also reflects on the kinds of learning these think tanks can enable depending on the kinds of actors that converge around them and on the forms of power that these actors represent.
De Groot, B., Leendertse, W., Arts, J. (2022). Co-evolution of organisations in infrastructure planning: The role of communities of practice as windows for learning across project-oriented organisations. Challenges in infrastructure planning require public infrastructure administrators, responsible for providing adequate infrastructure facilities, to be adaptive. These organizations evolve and interact with other organizations in a complex organizational landscape. This paper explores the contribution of inter-organizational communities of practice (CoPs) to collective learning and co-evolution of organizations in infrastructure planning. We conducted a case study of five inter-organizational CoPs in the domain of a typical public infrastructure administrator. The results suggest that inter-organizational CoPs enable, for example, policy and practice to co-evolve. Inter-organizational CoPs seem to provide a neutral ground where long-term sector benefits can overcome short-term organizational interests.
Gerrits, L., Marks, P. (2022). Learn and adapt, or perish: The case of the F35 Lightning II. We assess to what extent a (co)evolutionary macro level approach enhances our understanding of learning in governance processes. We ask the question: in what ways do actors learn to improve their chances of long-term survival in complex governance processes? We deploy a model of collective decision making moulded upon fitness landscapes to analyze a longitudinal case study of collective (political and administrative) decision making, namely the process of developing and acquiring the F35 Lightning II fighter jet. The study demonstrates that actors learn how to ensure survival over time but create a failing megaproject in the process.
Leong, C., Howlett, M. (2022). Policy learning, policy failure, and the mitigation of policy risks: Re-thinking the lessons of policy success and failure. Policy failures are often assumed to be unintentional and anomalous events about which well-intentioned governments can learn why they occurred and how they can be corrected. These assumptions color many of the results from contemporary studies of policy learning which remain optimistic that ongoing policy problems can be resolved through technical learning and lesson drawing from comparative case studies. Government intentions may not be solely oriented toward the creation of public value and publics may not abide by government wishes, however, and studies of policy learning need to take these “darksides” of policy-making more seriously if the risks of policy failure are to be mitigated.
Sustainability transitions bring together many different disciplines focussing on the interrelations between the social and the material. The burgeoning field of transition studies is becoming more inter-disciplinary, less normative, less modernist in nature, and more open to both discursive and material dynamics. Social-ecological systems thinking, already sensitive to ecological relations and vulnerabilities in their governance thinking, is similarly opening up to other disciplines, and considering the social and discursive with more care and open minds. In geography and anthropology, a turn to the body, to materiality and to affect preceded these developments, sometimes inspired by Deleuzian theory, sometimes simply through careful observation. Policy studies and planning, meanwhile, have picked up on the need to contribute to transitions and the pathways of sustainable development.
The contributions to this special issue explicitly aim to contribute to these inter-disciplinary debates on governance for sustainability. They explore the integration of insights from various disciplines to regain a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of material environments, both natural and human-made, on the formation and functioning of communities, their cultures, and their governance systems. The collection aims to contribute to this collective re-balancing of theories between discursive and material by highlighting how both connect: in governance, where collectively binding decisions are made to shape, exploit and protect the environment while the wider social issues and governance are simultaneously shaped by its material substrate.
In this paper, we present a framework for the analysis of shock and conflict in social-ecological systems and investigate the implications of this perspective for the understanding of environmental governance, particularly its evolutionary patterns and drivers. We dwell on the distinction between shock and conflict. In mapping the relation between shock and conflict, we invoke a different potentiality for altering rigidity and flexibility in governance; different possibilities for recall, revival and trauma; and different pathways for restructuring the relation between governance, community and environment. Shock and conflict can be both productive and eroding, and for each, one can observe that productivity can be positive or negative. These different effects in governance can be analyzed in terms of object and subject creation, path creation and in terms of the dependencies recognized by evolutionary governance theory: path, inter-, goal and material dependencies. Thus, shock and conflict are mapped in their potential consequences to not only shift a path of governance, but also to transform the pattern of self-transformation in such path. Finally, we reflect on what this means for the interpretation of adaptive governance of social-ecological systems.
This paper introduces the concepts and ideas that frame this special issue on co-evolution in governance, and their implications for policy learning and adaptation. It offers a brief overview of co-evolutionary approaches to governance and their elementary connections with systems theories, post-structuralism, institutionalism, and actor-network theory, and explores how they are connected to co-evolution in governance. Co-evolutionary approaches differ from other influential understandings of knowledge and learning in policy and governance. It furthermore presents a typology of learning in governance and systematically discusses how each type is affected by patterns of coevolution in governance.
This paper explores the consequences of a flat ontology for planning theory and practice through the lens of Evolutionary Governance Theory (EGT). It presents a perspective in which the ontological hierarchies assumed in planning and beyond are left behind, but also one that allows for understanding how hierarchies and binaries can emerge from and within governance and specifically planning. In this perspective planning is conceptualised as a web of interrelated social-material systems underpinning the coordination of policies and practices affecting spatial organization. Within this web, different planning perspectives and planning practices co-exist and co-evolve, partly in relation to the wider governance contexts of which they are part. We explore and deepen our understanding of the consequences of flat ontology by focusing on the interrelations between power and knowledge and the varied effects of materiality on planning and governance as materiality can play roles ranging from latent infrastructure to main triggers of change. We conclude our paper by assessing the consequences for the positionality of planning in society, stressing the need for more reflexive and adaptive forms of planning and governance, and reflection on what such forms of planning could look like. We argue that despite the abstract nature of discussions on ontology in and of planning, the conceptual shifts that result from thinking in terms of flat ontologies can significantly affect planning practices as it can inspire new ways of observing and organizing.
Keywords: Planning; Evolutionary Governance Theory; theory and practice; flat ontology